minimalism

dusk falls softly across the city.

it’s 5 pm, yet it seems like an eternity since i left home this morning. the smog of a day’s busy traffic melds with the fading light into innumerable hues of gray. the traffic crawls along at a sedate pace as usual. cars fit haphazardly into a mile-long column of chaos and frustration. intermittent angry car horns fade softly into the gloom.

just another rush hour in dhaka, i think to myself. isolated from the chaos outside thanks to the headphones of my mp3 player wedged in my ears, i engage in my favorite pastime, watching people. not staring rudely at individuals, but rather watching the entire mass, the entire population passing outside the car. i didn’t get any sleep last night, i remember, and try to let my body succumb to my exhaustion.

in the distance, an isolated pedestrian overpass, nearly devoid of pedestrians, who prefer the quick dash across the road through gaps between the halted automobiles. the overpass seems nearly empty, except for two figures, one bigger than the other, silhouetted against the sun setting behind them.

as i pull up closer to the overpass, i see the two figures are a mother and daughter, out perhaps for an afternoon walk or an impromptu visit to the store for some urgent groceries. yet they aren’t walking, rather they stand in one spot on the overpass, watching the traffic pass below them. the mother stands motionless, staring intently at the traffic with some problem on her mind, as if the solution lay in one of the cars below her.

her daughter, however, isn’t standing still. she’s about 6 or 7 years old. she stands on the overpass, her arms extended sticking out from her body, twirling in place, dancing softly to some unknown melody.

i reach for my camera to try and capture this moment, this little child twirling innocently in the haze of the imminent sunset while the city passes below her. but suddenly the traffic surges forward, and before i can even remove the lens cover, i’m too far away to take the picture.

another fantastic photo opportunity lost, i curse to myself.

and that, i realized, is the essence of dhaka. as tired and frustrated as we get with our own lives in this city, the tedium and the routine, the interminable traffic jams, the pollution, the incessant political conflict and the overpopulation, there still are small glimpses of beauty, spontaneity and innocence hidden away in the most unlikely places, if you only take time to notice. sadly, i don’t think i would have noticed had i not been too tired to do anything else – i’d much rather have been checking my email on my cell phone, calling a friend, or reading something or the other. that is the sad reality of our lives today – we’re so caught up in our own lives that we often teach ourselves to be blind to these things, or to subconsciously ignore them if we do see them.

i don’t know whether the two of them will be there again tomorrow when i take the same route back home. but i do know one thing – this time i’ll have my camera ready.

just in case.

demand

now that it’s become quite fashionable for every group, association or random collection of nitwits to put forth a set of demands, i think it’s time for the bangladeshi people to put forth our own set of demands to the political parties for political reform in bangladesh.

i think it’s time for the common man to present the politicians with our own set of egaro dofa dabi:

1. for god’s sake, please shut up: we’re sick and tired of your inane banter and speeches and press briefings. none of it has had any effect, other than to get your face plastered across national (and now, thanks to youtube) international media. since you hardly ever have anything to say, other than personal rants against one another, why don’t you use the tried-and-true method of writing each other letters? or – here’s an idea – use email. i’m tired of reading newspapers filled with your personal slander. scientists recently figured out a way to remove arsenic from water, a breakthrough for bangladesh, but was that on any newspaper front page?

2. find some issues to talk about: right, so in your devotional speeches to one another, you’ve already covered the vital issues like illegitimate children, sexual habits and mental disorders. let’s now get some important issues for the two of you to fight about. the democrats didn’t win the recent us elections by talking about who is who’s puppet; rather, the elections were decided by more important issues, like the war in iraq or abortion or gay marriage or stem cell research. i wonder when bangladeshi politicians will get as excited about issues like a sustainable internet usage policy or intellectual property rights or perhaps even privatization as they do over a balding man and a man who is old enough to be a reincarnated mummy and their every move. no one cares about pictures. no one cares whose name adorns the most buildings. we care about food, clothing, shelter and security, and frankly with all your crap you’ve ensured that two out of those four things are already endangered.

3. stop making business suffer: if there is anyone more vomit-inducing than the whole lot of you, it’s fazlul haque from bgmea and mir nasir hossain from fbcci. seeing as i watch the news over meals, i really don’t enjoy the nausea engendered by their frequent whining about how your inanity affects the economy. stop giving these characters the opportunity to hold daily press briefings to talk repeatedly about these things. instead, figure out political mechanisms that allow you to get your point across without disrupting business. in addition, while the lot of you might have cushy jobs as the chairmen of massive enterprises, the average voter doesn’t have that luxury. if your programs disrupt our jobs and our attempts to scrap together a meager living, we’re not going to vote for you.

4. compassion is key: if those people getting injured and even killed on your behalf on the streets are truly your workers, i would have expected some of you to actually visit them in the hospital or to participate in their janaza. your utter indifference to how they are doing just reaffirms the common man that these are expendable people you hired off the streets for the sole purpose of getting injured or killed. if you are going to be violent, how about taking a bit of the billions you receive for parliament nominations to set up a fund to pay for the medical treatment and burial of these workers? also, statistics can speak louder than words most times – while we’re at it, how about a comprehensive public database of your many millions of members?

5. life is not a bruce willis movie: yes, the whole public uprising thing was cool back in the 90s. you deposed two power-hungry leaders back then, through organized and sometimes violent means. that does not mean that it works anymore. we bangladeshis are sick and tired of the petty violence that you have been using in an attempt to make a point. frankly, we understood the point several meetings and press briefings ago. while that’s all well and good, what’s the value of having the tv stations broadcast your people beating the crap out of other folks? stop having your leaders incite violent behavior through their speeches and thus endangering innocent bystanders in the process. you need to start seeking non-violent forms of violence that can get your point across with minimum collateral damage.

6. policy continuity is your friend: in 35 years of independence, i think bangladesh has achieved several near-miracles. our human development indices are higher than many other developing countries, our economy is booming and a wide range of experts have called us everything from a middle income country to one of the next developed countries. clearly, then, we’ve done something right. for each government to come into power and immediately reject the
past government policies is savage tomfoolery. try to learn from the mistakes of the past government and build on their achievements, instead of having to start from the ground up every five years.

7. transparency is beautiful: transparency and accountability are relevant not only for governments but for political parties as well. it’s time to make the election nomination and selection process as transparent as possible, instead of on the basis of who contributes the most money to the party. if you have the grassroots support and networks that you claim to have, why don’t you use them to see who the people of each constituency would like to see represent them in parliament, instead of donating nominations to people who don’t even live in the constituency? i’m sure this country is full of bright intelligent leaders that could play an effective role as a parliamentarian rather than the crop of sycophants you harvest in your offices. we also need more transparent election campaign financing procedures from the lot of you.

8. depoliticize the civil service: you may be in power for five years, but the civil service will be running the country for the rest of all our lifetimes. your unnecessary interference in their functions, through frequent transfers and the exercise of discretionary powers, seriously undermines the effectiveness of the civil service. what you need to do instead is to insulate the civil service from the political government, so that your ministers and parliamentarians can not influence their activities.

9. regulatory reform: despite all the fuss you raise over the war of independence, we still have a hefty stock of regulations from the british colonial era that seriously need to be reformed. you need to work on the existing regulations in bangladesh, instead of drafting new ones that you subsequently forget about, and look at how these existing regulations can be modified to remove the abuse of discretionary powers that leads to corruption. you also need to look at how to make them logical and relevant to the twenty-first century – for example, the policy of imposing higher duties on raw materials than assembled products is contrary to each and every economics textbook in the world, and can cause more harm than good.

10. let small parties work: frankly, a two-party or dual alliance system of government is not suitable for bangladesh. especially not the two parties that are around, who i fear have mostly lost touch with the needs of the common man. instead, the true meaning of this much-vaunted concept of democracy that you keep harping on about is letting the voice of the common man be heard. for this reason, there needs to be a wide variety of political parties in the parliament as well as in bangladesh. clearly the lot of you are useless at running a country – the problem is, now that we’ve given you both chances and turned out to be completely wrong both times, who do we choose to lead the country? the sad answer is, due to your ruthless alliance-forming and cartel-building, we have few options left. small parties can help fill this void, and can help parliament be more effective, by representing a wider cross-section of people than the current crop. they can also represent a wider spectrum of political viewpoints than your standard left-wing, right-wing model. so let them set up operations, grow and thrive. burning their houses and beating their workers are not effective ways to proceed.

11. stop screaming and learn to talk: it’s all well and good to see the two secretary-generals sitting on comfortable sofas smiling benevolently at one another, but that clearly hasn’t helped anyone in any way. rather, what we need is a concerted dialogue betwen political parties – not only on the national level but on the regional, district, sub-district and thana levels. i think what bangladesh needs now is a “no village left behind” policy to ensure that the fruits of development are spread equally throughout the country, and what will be necessary for this to succeed is dialogue between stakeholders in all areas to determine how best to develop their respective regions. frequent dialogue between political parties at the grassroots level can show that politicians are committed to development in bangladesh.

in short, i feel the time is right for politicians in bangladesh to take a radical step forward – the country as a whole needs politicians to put aside their petty differences and work towards a better and brighter future for bangladesh. perhaps what we need now is not election commission reform but urgent political reform instead. we the people need leaders that can lead and are committed to development, not those that slander each other endlessly and incite mayhem at the cost of the general public. maybe that will help solve the current impasse and prevent it from getting any worse in the future.

some notes:

  1. i know i don’t generally indulge myself in political discussions on this blog (with the exception of these posts), but i’m heartily sick and tired of the uncertainty and general confusion due to the current crisis, and had to vent in some way.
  2. the results and analysis of my research on first-time voters and their willingness to vote has been slightly delayed due to the current political scenario. it should be posted later this week.
  3. my last post marks the beginning of a new type of posts on this blog – fake news reports that are meant to be amusing. i feel that in this time of uncertainty and crisis that engulfs the country, it’s easy to become cynical about the future, but it’s also important to maintain your sense of humor at all costs.
  4. as always, comments are always welcome.

elegy for a dear friend

here lies

BANGLADESH
1971-2006

she fought valiantly for freedom and democracy
but always squandered it away

she will be missed.

rest in pieces.

***

for those who think i’ve declared death prematurely, be assured, we’re at war. we’ve got the guns, we’ve got the bombs, we’ve got the fighter jets (and more on the way). but we’re not sure who the enemy is, or what it is we’re fighting for.

frankly, i liked it better when the enemy was poverty, or unemployment, or inflation, or crime or anything else that could hurt us. and when the weapons were policies, rules, regulations and laws, not bricks, cricket bats, hockey sticks and bamboo. also, i loved it when those laws, policies and rules worked.

is it really that difficult for us to stop fighting each other and engaging in wanton destruction? is that the only way left to make a political statement? or is this an indication that we should just give up on law and order and engage in vigilantism? is the answer to every single problem a gutted car, a burnt factory or an innumerable number of people in the hospital or in the morgue?

but i still hope. foolishly, some might say. but i still believe that, a group of 144 million people that can rise up to protect their right to speak their own language can, 35 years later, rise up to do the things that need to be done to fulfill the potential we all know we have.

so let’s not bury bangladesh fully today.

let’s bury the parts of bangladesh we hate – the corruption, the deteriorating law and order, the dirty politics, the fanaticism, the spiralling prices of essentials, what happened today.

let’s wake up tomorrow, refreshed, cleansed, free of this anger that burns inside us.

let’s make a fresh start tomorrow and let’s solve all our problems.

let’s once again be proud of who we are, instead of reminiscing about who we could have been.

let’s learn all over again what it means to be a citizen of bangladesh.

but then, that’s just me, and that’s just the way i feel.

you’re right, it’s all just wishful thinking.